Thomas Percy Criticism - Essay

Cleanth Brooks (essay date 1977)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Introduction,” in The Percy Letters: The Correspondence of Thomas Percy & William Shenstone, Yale University Press, 1977, pp. v-xxvii.

[In the following essay, Brooks provides an overview of Percy's correspondence with author William Shenstone, focusing particularly on Shenstone's assistance in the compilation of Percy's Reliques.]


The first extant letter of this correspondence is dated 24 November 1757. It is from Percy, and on it Shenstone has scribbled a note that reads: “Mr. Percy is domestic chaplain to the Earl of Sussex and has Genius and Learning, accompany'd with great Vivacity.” The note suggests that the...

(The entire section is 5937 words.)

Cleanth Brooks (essay date 1979)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Young Thomas Percy,” in Forum, Vol. 17, No. 2, Spring, 1979.

[In the following essay, Brooks offers an account of Percy's writings, noting that the preponderance of negative critical attention given to the Reliques diminishes Percy's reputation as a scholar.]

Thomas Percy is usually remembered as a man of one book, the celebrated Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, the work that Wordsworth and Coleridge were to accord the highest praise; and the Reliques itself is all too often thought of as simply a collection of folk ballads. The result is that Percy has acquired a modest fame as a purveyor of folk ballads who, unwittingly and...

(The entire section is 6259 words.)

Bertram H. Davis (essay date 1981)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Reliques of Ancient English Poetry,” in Thomas Percy, Twayne, 1981, pp. 72-108.

[In the following excerpt, Davis examines Percy's Reliques, analyzing the text's sources and providing an overview of its contents and a brief survey of its various editions.]

The eighteenth-century ballad revival has been so intimately associated with the Reliques of Ancient English Poetry that it has been easy to overlook the fact that Percy's compilation marks the end of an era of ballad interest as well as a beginning.1 Most students of the period are familiar with Joseph Addison's 1711 Spectator papers, numbers 70 and 74, which...

(The entire section is 14980 words.)

Bertram H. Davis (essay date 1982)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Thomas Percy: The Dilemma of a Scholar-Cleric,” in The Kentucky Review, Vol. 3, No. 3, 1982, pp. 28-46.

[In the following essay, Davis examines contemporary controversies surrounding Percy's Reliques, focusing specifically on Percy's accuracy and editorial practices.]

“I bestow upon a few old poems,” Thomas Percy wrote to David Dalrymple on 25 January 1763, “those idle moments, which some of my grave brethren pass away over a sober game at whist.”1 How Dalrymple reacted to Percy's analogy is not known, but the modern reader is likely to dismiss it as a facetious if not wholly insincere depreciation of Percy's own efforts, which...

(The entire section is 7142 words.)

Zinnia Knapman (essay date 1986)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Reappraisal of Percy's Editing,” in Folk Music Journal, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1986, pp. 202-14.

[In the following essay, Knapman discusses the critical evaluation, by both contemporaries and twentieth-century scholars, of Percy's editing practices in the Reliques.]

In 1765, the year when George III's Stamp Act started the great ‘No Taxation without Representation’ row with the American Colonies, Bishop Percy published a heavily edited and annotated anthology entitled Reliques of Ancient English Poetry.1 The collection, although a rich source of folk texts, has never been popular with folklorists and Percy's significance has only been...

(The entire section is 5186 words.)

Joseph M. P. Donatelli (essay date 1989)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Old Barons in New Robes: Percy's Use of the Metrical Romances in the Reliques of Ancient English Poetry,” in Hermeneutics and Medieval Culture, edited by Patrick J. Gallacher and Helen Damico, State University of New York Press, 1989, pp. 225-35.

[In the following essay, Donatelli analyzes the Folio manuscript that was the primary source for Percy's Reliques, and notes the influence of metrical romances on Percy's editorial selections for this work.]

The publication of Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry in 1765 changed the course of English literature. Wordsworth claimed that England's poetry “had been absolutely...

(The entire section is 5073 words.)

Gwendolyn A. Morgan (essay date 1995)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Percy, the Antiquarians, the Ballad, and the Middle Ages,” in Studies in Medievalism, Vol. 7, 1995, pp. 22-32.

[In the following essay, Morgan assesses the literary status of ballads from medieval times to the present, specifically focusing on eighteenth-century perceptions of balladry via the works of Thomas Percy.]

The eighteenth-century obsession with the Middle Ages in a search for a British national character brought with it the first examination of the traditional ballads. These, according to the antiquarians, evinced a primitive chivalry of thought and manners which indicated the essential nobility of the native English soul. Today, we still...

(The entire section is 4143 words.)

Nick Groom (essay date 1996)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Celts, Goths, and the Nature of the Literary Source,” in Tradition in Transition: Women Writers, Marginal Texts, and the Eighteenth-Century Canon, edited by Alvaro Ribeiro, SJ and James G. Basker, Clarendon Press, 1996, pp. 275-96.

[In the following essay, Groom examines the relevance of James Macpherson's Ossian to Percy's work on the Reliques, pointing to contemporary eighteenth-century controversies regarding the importance of textual histories and sources.]

This chapter examines James Macpherson's sensational Ossian (1760-5)1 and its relevance to Percy's Reliques (1765), arguing that Thomas Percy's work, which...

(The entire section is 9631 words.)